Setting Up A Belay

In rock climbing, climbers must sometimes make do with marginal protection placements along a route, but belay positions must be made as "bombproof" as possible. Additionally, the belayer must set up the belay in relation to where the fall force will come from and pay strict attention to proper rope management for the belay to be effective. All belay positions are established with the anchor connection to the front of the harness. If the belay is correctly established, the belayer will feel little or no force if the climber falls or has to rest on the rope. Regardless of the actual belay technique used, five basic steps are required to set up a sound belay.

a. Select Position and Stance. Once the climbing line is picked, the belayer selects his position. It's best if the position is off to the side of the actual line, putting the belayer out of the direct path of a potential fall or any rocks kicked loose by the climber. The position should allow the belayer to maintain a comfortable, relaxed stance, as he could be in the position for a fairly long time. Large ledges that allow a well braced, sitting stance are preferred. Look for belay positions close to bombproof natural anchors. The position must at least allow for solid artificial placements.

b. Aim the Belay. With the belay position selected, the belay must now be "aimed." The belayer determines where the rope leading to the climber will run and the direction the force of a fall will likely come from. When a lead climber begins placing protection, the fall force on the belayer will be in some upward direction, and in line with the first protection placement. If this placement fails under load, the force on the belay could be straight down again. The belayer must aim his belay for all possible load directions, adjusting his position or stance when necessary. The belay can be aimed through an anchor placement to immediately establish an upward pull; however, the belayer must always be prepared for the more severe downward fall force in the event intermediate protection placements fail.

c. Anchor the Belay. For a climbing belay to be considered bombproof, the belayer must be attached to a solid anchor capable of withstanding the highest possible fall force. A solid natural anchor would be ideal, but more often the belayer will have to place pitons or chocks. A single artificial placement should never be considered adequate for anchoring a belay (except at ground level). Multiple anchor points capable of supporting both upward and downward pulls should be placed. The rule of thumb is to place two anchors for a downward pull and one anchor for an upward pull as a MINIMUM. The following key points also apply to anchoring belays.

(1) Each anchor must be placed in line with the direction of pull it is intended to support.

(2) Each anchor attachment must be rigged "independently" so a failure of one will not shock load remaining placements or cause the belayer to be pulled out of position.

(3) The attachment between the anchor and the belayer must be snug to support the stance. Both belayer's stance and belay anchors should absorb the force of a fall.

(4) It is best for the anchors to be placed relatively close to the belayer with short attachments. If the climber has to be tied-off in an emergency, say after a severe fall, the belayer can attach a Prusik sling to the climbing rope, reach back, and connect the sling to one of the anchors. The load can be placed on the Prusik and the belayer can come out of the system to render help.

(5) The belayer can use either a portion of the climbing rope or slings of the appropriate length to connect himself to the anchors. It's best to use the climbing rope whenever possible, saving the slings for the climb. The rope is attached using either figure eight loops or clove hitches. Clove hitches have the advantage of being easily adjusted. If the belayer has to change his stance at some point, he can reach back with the guide hand and adjust the length of the attachment through the clove hitch as needed.

(6) The anchor attachments should also help prevent the force of a fall from "rotating" the belayer out of position. To accomplish this, the climbing rope must pass around the "guide-hand side" of the body to the anchors. Sling attachments are connected to the belayer's seat harness (or bowline-on-a-coil) on the guide-hand side.

(7) Arrangement of rope and sling attachments may vary according to the number and location of placements. Follow the guidelines set forth and remember the key points for belay anchors; "in line", "independent", and "snug". Figure 6-27 shows an example of a common arrangement, attaching the rope to the two "downward" anchors and a sling to the "upward" anchor. Note how the rope is connected from one of the anchors back to the belayer. This is not mandatory, but often helps "line-up" the second attachment.

Self Belay Techniques
Figure 6-27. Anchoring a belay.

d. Stack the Rope. Once the belayer is anchored into position, he must stack the rope to ensure it is free of twists and tangles that might hinder rope management in the belay. The rope should be stacked on the ground, or on the ledge, where it will not get caught in cracks or nubbins as it is fed out to the climber.

(1) On small ledges, the rope can be stacked on top of the anchor attachments if there is no other place to lay it, but make sure to stack it carefully so it won't tangle with the anchored portion of the rope or other slings. The belayer must also ensure that the rope will not get tangled around his legs or other body parts as it "feeds" out.

(2) The rope should never be allowed to hang down over the ledge. If it gets caught in the rock below the position, the belayer may have to tie-off the climber and come out of the belay to free the rope; a time-consuming and unnecessary task. The final point to remember is the rope must be stacked "from the belayer's end" so the rope running to the climber comes off the "top" of the stacked pile.

e. Attach the Belay. The final step of the procedure is to attach the belay. With the rope properly stacked, the belayer takes the rope coming off the top of the pile, removes any slack between himself and the climber, and applies the actual belay technique. If using a body belay, ensure the rope is clipped into the guide carabiner.

(1) The belayer should make one quick, final inspection of his belay. If the belay is set up correctly, the anchor attachments, guide carabiner if applicable, and the rope running to the climber will all be on the "guide hand" side, which is normally closest to the rock (Figure 6-28). If the climber takes a fall, the force, if any, should not have any negative effect on the belayer's involvement in the system. The brake hand is out away from the slope where it won't be jammed between the body and the rock. The guide hand can be placed on the rock to help support the stance when applying the brake.

(2) When the belayer is satisfied with his position, he gives the signal, "BELAY ON!". When belaying the "second", the same procedure is used to set up the belay. Unless the belay is aimed for an upward pull, the fall force is of course downward and the

Hanging Belay Set
Figure 6-28. Belay setup.

belayer is usually facing away from the rock, the exception being a hanging belay on a vertical face. If the rope runs straight down to the climber and the anchors are directly behind the position, the belayer may choose to brake with the hand he feels most comfortable with. Anchor attachments, guide carabiner, and rope running to the climber through the guide hand must still be aligned on the same side to prevent the belayer from being rotated out of position, unless the belayer is using an improvised harness and the anchor attachment is at the rear.

Continue reading here: Toprope Belay

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